What to eat in the wild

Today I want to talk about a subject that always creates a lot of buzz and has generated quite a few emails; what to eat in the wild. As I have said in previous posts about the 5 principles of survival, food is way down on the list as even the skinniest of people can survive for a few weeks without food. Despite that, I want to touch on this subject and answer the questions I have received from readers. The only real way of knowing what to eat in the wild is to do a taste test.what to eat in the wild

The taste test for unknown foods

The process is actually very simple, but time consuming, and there are a few things I want to stress before I go on

1. This system DOES NOT work with mushrooms and fungi, unless you are an expert then leave them well alone. Mushrooms and fungi will kill you in some pretty horrific and painful ways if you get it wrong. How can I tell a poisonous mushroom? Truthfully, it is just too hard to tell and is simply not worth the risk vs nutritional benefit received.

2. There are exceptions to every rule; what I am teaching is a rule of thumb but it is not fool-proof.

3. It is better to understand what plants and animals are in your area before you need them in an emergency. That should hopefully allow you to live off the land. The process that follows is to be used in extremis only (see point 2.)

4. Tasting something that you are unsure of can result in death, so never eat something that you cannot positively identify as edible or if you are in a true life or death situation. If you are truly starving then use the following taste test.

What exactly is the process then?

  • Take a very small piece of the food and rub it on your skin – Wait 24 hours
  • Take a very small piece and rub it on a small part of your lip – Wait 24 hours
  • Take a very small piece and rub it on your tongue – Wait 24 hours
  • Take a very small piece, chew it and spit it out – Wait 24 hours
  • Take a very small piece and eat it – Wait 24 hours
  • Take a larger piece and eat it – wait 24 hours
  • Gradually increase the size waiting 24 hours each time until you are content its not having an adverse effect on you.

What to eat in the wildYou are probably thinking, ‘I will have starved by the time I get to eat anything’ and you are not far wrong. Unfortunately the wait is the most important part of the test, you are waiting to see if you suffer ANY abnormal reaction. If you do, then under NO circumstances eat what you are testing. That is why education and practice are your best bet; positively identifying something as edible will mean you don’t have to do any tests.

But all is not lost there is a way to speed the process up slightly; however, see rule 3.

What to eat in the wild if you really have to.

Plants – If it is hairy, has a milky sap, strong smell or has brightly coloured berries then avoid.

Animals – Mammals and reptiles are generally a safe bet as are most fish. Avoid the livers of uncommon animals such as seals or Polar Bears which have toxic levels of Vitamin A
Insects – Okay, I know what you are thinking and trust me I feel the same… However, some of the most nutritious and easily accessible foods available are insects. Avoid if they are hairy, have spines, brightly coloured or are known to be venomous. It is also good practice to avoid insects that you would associate with your house as they will likely be diseased i.e. Cockroaches. And, honestly they don’t taste that bad, I have tried quite a few over the years.grub eating for survival

Funny story – When doing the Desert Survival Instructor course in the Nevada Desert we were being given a lesson on finding food. Our instructor (Chalky, you bastard!) told us that a delicacy in the founding years of the USA was
an insect called the perfume beetle. It is a small black beetle,
than when threatened, would do a little handstand and secrete a fluid from its butt.

So there we were as trainee Desert Survival Instructors all looking to impress and do well. When Chalky challenged us to eat the sweet tasting ‘Perfume Beetle’ we all jumped at the chance! So half a dozen of us at the same time took one of these live beetles, put it in our mouths and started chewing as quickly as we could to get it over and done with.

To say that the ‘Perfume Beetle’ tasted foul was an understatement, it is without doubt the most horrible thing I have ever had in my mouth. The moral of the story, never trust a survival instructor when he tells you insects taste nice; especially when its real name is the Stink Bug because of how bad they smell…. And taste!


mushrooms are a bad survival foodFungi
– Just to be clear, I am talking about all fungi, mushrooms and toadstools. They are very difficult to identify and can kill you very quickly. Simply put, do NOT eat them unless you are an expert!

All of the above food sources will still need to have the taste test completed if you are not 100% sure you have identified them as edible.

Time doing homework is never wasted

There you have it folks , should you find yourself in a dire situation and you cannot identify local foods then you may be able to work around the problem. The method described is not foolproof but it will help you should you be starving and in danger of eating anything you come across out of desperation.

Your best chance of eating the right thing is to get out into the wild with a couple of pocket books and identify your local plants and animals before disaster strikes. Better still, find out who the local foraging guru is and see what classes they run; it could just save your life.

I hope you enjoyed this article and it has generated some food for thought (pun 100% intended) and encourages you to get out and see what exists in your local area. Please dont disappear straight away, have a look at my other articles especially this one about eating food in a survival situation. Of interest will be this post on harnessing your survival instinct.

As an aside if you are looking for an interesting book to read on the subject of foraging and what you can eat then please have a look these foraging books.

Thanks for stopping by, if you enjoyed this post then please share this article and leave a comment below. I am always keen to see what other people have to say about the subjects I post on.

Dave

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12 comments

  • Good stuff, Dave!

    A person hopes they never have to resort to eating insects to survive, but – consistently – those seem to be the higher protein items that everyone brings up. Sure, if you have crayfish or other easily-available “normal” food near you and can catch them, that’s great. What if you don’t?

    I’ve never had to resort to this, and I hope I never do.

    The other good source for the warmer bits of the year is, as you say, wild edibles. I also hope never to have to resort to these, but the point you make about needing to learn to identify these things ahead of time is extremely valid. Particularly if a person has bad allergies, it would be very much in their favor to identify the wild edibles they can consume ahead of time.

    Nuts and eggs are sure natural – and safe for most people – but some folks only have to ingest a small portion to be struck with a severe anaphylactic reaction.

    Keep it up, Sir!

    • It’s always a challenge to find food, regardless what kind of food it is. Sometimes it’s the easier foods that people don’t like to eat i.e. bugs 🙂 I agree with you about never having to eat bugs, I have eaten quite a few and it’s not nice.

      As for a severe anaphylactic reaction, unfortunately sometimes when your time is up, then your time is up. If you have a reaction in a survival situation then that s just bad luck. If in doubt or if you cant identify it then leave it well alone.

  • Spartan

    We are in agreement on the do your homework part, because any man that attempts to educate himself about what to eat by trial and error is a dead man. There are almost an innumerable number of books out there, some good, some not so good, that will teach a person what they need to know to survive safely and live healthy after shft (provided the edibles are not covered with radioactive dust). People need to keep in mind that it is not very difficult to accurately identify twenty or more plants within every growing zone of the United States. thanks

  • This is a very interesting article. Thanks for the share! I am a newbie at survivalism and believe that knowledge like this should be shared with everyone.

  • PJ

    Very good article. I have several books on edible wild plants and you can google edible wild plants and get some great pictures and identification information. I think Spartan has a great idea about the twenty plants in your local area. Foraging is probably the most practical.
    We should all be able to identify: dandelion, purslane, young spring time lamb’s quarters, herbs like mint and chamomile, plantain(excellent for bug bites!), burdock should be boiled twice before eating, stinging nettled, (bruised to prevent stinging then, boiled or sauted), clover, chicory, and chickweed(small and mild, great in a salad!) That is 10, and I just got started. Most of these”weeds” grow in our gardens and we pour stupid pesticides on actual, beneficial plants.
    One of my hobbies! Thank you for the food for thought! PJ

    • I have a plethora of books on foraging as well and its amazing what we have right on our doorstep, yet we never use. My grandfather used to swear by a lot of traditional herbal methods and to this day still hates taking drugs for things. I guess he is living proof as he is nearly 90 and still going strong 🙂

  • Calvin Stratton

    I spent a lot of time in the “far east” and “middle east” during my 12 years in the Marines. All of our survival courses utilized local tribal guides, as surrogate instructors, who were amazing sources of local survival resources. Several of the items presented as survival foods during the courses, turned out to be common meals consumed by the locals and lots of it served by street vendors encountered during “bar exploration phase” of training. These commonly accepted dishes by the local tribes/indigenous people, included a wide variety of insects, worms and other creepy crawly “survival foods”, that were by the way much tastier when prepared with local herbs and oils. Turns out that our biased Western view of acceptable foods is stopping us from enjoying, some tasty, nutritious and relatively free food sources enjoyed by millions of non-survivalist everyday. Even though it took a lot of willpower, curiosity and beer to overcome that bias, it is well worth the research and experimenting into a widely overlooked daily food resource. The readily available recipes have helped my preferred ultralight hiking trips with tastier meals and serious weight savings on every outing, and they keep getting lighter and more enjoyable by throwing in a few small containers of local oils and harvesting field herbs and ” field veggies”! The other great skill gained was field food preparation techniques, that utizled freshly cut bamboo cooking tubes/steamers that consisted of diagonally cutting a bamboo section at a 45 degree angle just below the natural bamboo sectional areas, that we filled with water (which the cut bamboo holds wonderfully), filling the bamboo “cooking tube” with water and all and any snails, bugs, frogs, worms, mosses and herbs, then placing the tube via the 45 degree point into a hot bed off coals, slightly burying the tube and capping with a simple cut bamboo cap/lid. The water and goodies inside the cook tube soon boiled (not burning the bamboo in the slightest) and what forms usually was an exceptional survival meal that could easily suffice a lost/injured hiker for a unlimited time frame.While providing water, fats, proteins, internal heat, etc.

    The whole process takes approximately 30 minutes, with the majority of time waiting for a fat frog to be captured. After seperating from the service and on my own forget the war sojourn (spending 16 months in the Canadian Rockies and Southeast deserts of the US, on a super ultraweight/survival self-reclamation soul seeking journey, I actually put on a bit of weight, all while covering 25 miles of mountains and very strenuous hiking/torture days in a row. Minimal equipment is required to enjoy this culinary process, basically a machete to cut the 45 degree angle and tube cover-stopper, mag fire starter, assorted snares, spears and nets and fish hooks to gather desired contents and about 45 minutes to brew the survival stew. In the end you toss the cooking tube into the fire and dishes and dinner are done, no cook pots or utensils to carry, all biodegradable and a very efficient and tasty way to survive in comfort with hot and palatable food.

    Just an thought and some FYI for overcoming cultural biases.

    Thanks Calvin
    Just wanted to share my two cents and to promote a wonderful (yet difficult to mentally adapt too) source of survival and standard daily food sources. Shows how oral tradition and

    • Calvin,

      Thanks for the detailed post, it was a great read. I couldn’t agree more, unfortunately most of us eat with our eyes 🙂 That being said I have eaten quite a few bugs and grubs over the years and I have never enjoyed any of them but I know they will keep me alive if I need them… Lets hope it never gets to that, lol.

      As for using locals, you are totally right! When in the jungle we were shown how to track people by one of the local gurus, what an eye opener. He would show us ‘clear sign of being disturbed’, that to this day, I have no idea what he was showing us as I never seen what he could see. He was a proper ninja at reading the jungle.

  • Dave,

    Thanks very much for this informative and helpful post. I appreciate your stressing education and patience, which are 2 things that in an emergency may allude many. The whole small piece and waiting 24 hours may be difficult but I do believe it also may save your life should you be in a bad situation where you are trying to survive in nature.

    I also have to say Calvin’s comment above is full of very interesting real life education and application.
    Thanks again all my best,

    Gary

    • Thanks Gary,

      I appreciate your comments and have to agree with you that it is difficult to wait the 24 hours, hence why it’s better to educated yourself first! Short term pain for long term gain 🙂

      Dave

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